Wishing Well

An Adventure in which Hedgerow Hippy and her Trusty Apprentice encounter a Kingdom, a Hillfort and a Magical Well…

In search of an adventure in Perth that didn’t involve a pub, we headed up to Kinnoull Hill. It started out with a disappointing (and pretty steep) gravelly path but we took the first opportunity to take a detour into the woods and discovered a beautiful maze of paths winding a bit more gently around the hill. I much prefer a leisurely zig zag than a mad march straight to the top.

Starting out in a dapply Birch Wood with loads of flowering Wood Sage along the path edges, we climbed over a few fallen Larches before coming to a clearing full of my latest obsession – grasses. This year, I’ve been really taken with the different types of grasses – amazing architectural and textural variety. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d find grasses even remotely interesting I’d have laughed so hard! But I suppose once the conifers have got you, a line is crossed and no botanical obsession is too weird…

When we reached the top, a hazy horizon failed to match the lookout plaque – no mountains to be seen today. But there were wise words etched into the bench – Think Global, Act Local.

think global act local

It’s a sentiment I’m familiar with but I’m less familiar with the name it is attributed to – Patrick Geddes. A quick Wiki makes me want to read more though…

We press on round the path to another look out point. This is more like what we were expecting! A dizzying view across the silvery Tay to the Kingdom of Fife .

across the Silvery Tay

I know. The picture doesn’t do it justice. We tried a few different ideas to give it a bit of perspective but, really, you just need to get yourself up that hill and see it for yourself.

En route to the Hillfort, a glimpse through the trees caught my breath… no less impressive on discovering it was in fact a carving.

bird through the trees bird carving

The real discovery was yet to come though. Whenever we’re out and about he inevitably gets the phone out and has a look for any Geocaches that are about. Kinnoull Hill is hoaching with them! So we went up to the hillfort and for the ‘virtual cache’ – photo evidence:


Then went looking for Lady Grey’s well. I’ve got mixed feelings about geocaching but its when it leads you to discoveries like this that I love it. Yes, it’s a plastic box with some random nick nacks in it at the base of a tree (they’re always at the base of a tree!) but while he was signing the little book to say we’ve found it, I was taking in the atmosphere of the Well. It’s a Clootie Well – a kind of wishing well where you tie a piece of cloth to a tree to heal you of some affliction or make a wish for your future.

A red neckerchief stood out immediately but the longer I stood the more and more ribbons and baubles became apparent. A long pink ribbon from someone I imagine to be a Polish immigrant.

pink ribbon

“I wish for a chance to belong and to find determination in everything I do but most of all to be happy and for others to find happiness too – K xx”

A Swan Vesta match box from someone I imagine wants to give up smoking (and chocolate, the person who tied on a Thorntons ribbon).

A poignant Marie Curie Daffodil which simply reads ‘thank you’.

I cut the ribbon off my notebook and made a wish as I tied it to the tree (not telling – if you tell, it doesn’t come true!)

And so we headed off to Boaby’s Wood (stop it!!! No, I laughed all the way there…) before the rain came on…

Shelter from the storm

My Sister and her Island Man gave me a lovely wee book called the Healing Wells of the Western Isles by Finlay MacLeod. In the intro, he discusses the role of ritual in effecting healing. Certainly, the pilgrimage to such a well and the symbolism of leaving your wish or leaving your illness behind on the cloot to be washed clean by the spirit of the well has the power to be an effective placebo. However, each  of the wells in the book has a specific range of powers to heal certain illnesses so I wonder about the plants that grow nearby. Could they leach their healing properties into the well water? What about the mineral composition of the rocks the water flows through? Indeed, the book describes some wells as having water which is ‘full of iron’ or with a ‘film resembling oil’ to be seen on the surface of the water.

On the other hand, I have been thinking alot recently about the psychology of health. The way that people respond to health and ill health is fascinating. When writing my dissertation, I also became fascinated by the nature of mental health – the way we separate the psychological from the physiological and how it wasn’t always that way. It is intriguing that many of the Wells described in book are credited with the power to heal all sorts of nervous or mental illnesses, from ‘insanity’ to dementia, toothache to deafness!

So, i’ve been pondering on the words Wishing Well. At first glance its a ‘well’ where you get water but now, thinking about it, I wonder which came first. The well that holds water or the water that makes you well?

THE TREE YEAR – Disaster! (and Lichens)

On the way home from work last week, I spent a good while sitting watching my trees to see what was living in and around them. Since then I’ve basically been housebound with a dodgy back and, having written up this post, I went out today to go to the GP and…


They’re chopping down my bloody trees!!! I’ve yet to find out why or whether they’re taking them down completely but I’m sure I’ve heard chat in the past that they “spoil the view of the Church” – don’t get me started on that one…

Anyway, for what its worth – heres what was living in and around the trees last week:

Nothing it seems… I could hear the little birds but I couldn’t see them – I think they were in the Beech Hedge underneath. There were crows but they flew from the church tower over the top to the Copper Beech [now I wonder if they knew something I didn’t…]. No new growth coming on yet – the third round of snow has only just melted. But then I noticed something that was growing… all of the Tilia were covered in lichens! Lichens are a collaborative entity made up of an algae, which provides food by photosynthesis, and a fungus which protects the algae in return for a share of the food. They are a good indicator of clean air as they are very susceptible to air borne pollution. As very slow growing entities, they are also a good indicator of age for the tree or building they are found on. The flat types are the most difficult to ID but I’ll keep an eye on them over the year and see if anything happens to them to make them more distinctive. Probably best to take my loup along next time. The 3D (I think technically called fruticose) ones are less difficult but I’m no expert!

lichen twig

I initially thought that the one on the twig was Reindeer Moss (Cladonia portentosa) but now I think its Heather Rags (Hypogymnia physodes). The smaller hairy one I do know as Usnea – it’s the medicinal one. You can tell you’ve got an Usnea by pulling a strand apart. It should be stretchy (known as ‘knicker elastic lichen’ in Scotland) and when it breaks you should see a white cord running through the centre. Not one which came up in my training but, as a local ‘herb’, it’s definitely one I’m interested in getting to know better. It is used as an anti-biotic and has been researched for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

The charity Plantlife have produced a great wee booklet on lichens which I picked up a Countryside Ranger talk last year. As well as Richard Armstrong, the Ranger who gave the talk, I must credit it with alot of the information presented above.  It also tells me that lichens have been used as natural dyes for Harris Tweed, with colours from browns and fawns through to, remarkably, reds and purples! I particularly like this wee quote:

“Lichen dye once fetched such a high price that it gave rise to the Scottish saying ‘cattle on the hills, gold on the stones’.”

Sadly, this says nothing of the treasure in the trees. This is not how I thought my Tree Year would go but I’ll follow developments and keep posting…


10/10/10 saw a cold white sky in Strathearn but I braved the garden to harvest some more beautiful Borage flowers. Used in traditional medicine to raise the spirits, just looking at them makes my heart smile (much needed after a hard week and 3 dreich days in a row). I’ll write more about Borage, one of my favourite herbs, another time but for now here is my contribution to Flickr‘s 10/10/10 event:

borage against a cold white sky

10 BORAGE FLOWERSborage 10